September was my last month off before going back to work, so I made the most of it by reading approximately 1 million books. Then I forgot to finish writing about them until the end of October. Well, I didn’t forget, it’s more that I didn’t have time. Woo, parenting!
I read 12 books in September. 12! That’s basically a million. In fairness a quarter of these were collections of comics so not a lot of text and I read them really fast.
- 6 were by authors of colour, although one was a collection of essays by 18 Muslim writers and I think pretty much all of them are women of colour
- 7 were by women (if you include the essay collection as one), 4 by the same men, and 1 by a non-binary writer
- 9 were fiction and 3 non-fiction
- A lot of the content was cishet, able-bodied and straight – with the exceptions being It’s Not About The Burqa (which did feature queer stories) and Pet (which features a trans protagonist)
- 1 book features a neuro divergent protagonist and 1 had a lead character with selective mutism
Books I listened to on Audible
Circe – Madeline Miller
I’ve always been fond of my Greek mythology and I just loved this. It’s been a long time since I listened to a book on Audible where I put it on at every available second to find out what would happen next (last time was probably The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, or possibly The Power by Naomi Alderman, both of which I read in 2017). If like me you think you know Circe (she’s the sorceress who changes Odysseus’s crew into pigs when they land on her island on the way back from the Trojan War) – think again. This book imagines her untold story, and takes a look at some of the tales you might remember from old movies like Clash of the Titans in a different way. It’s got your auld minotaur, sea monsters, unnecessarily cruel gods, romance, vengeance and more. Gorgeous narration by Perdita Weeks too.
BRIT(ish):On Race, Identity and Belonging – Afua Hirsch
I found this absolutely fascinating. It’s about racism and the weird relationship we have with our history in Britain, looking at class, education and culture. It’s thoroughly researched, but not a dry textbook – it’s a very personal journey as Hirsch discovers various links for example between a Robert Baden-Powell memorial near her home in London and Ghanaian ancestors. Hirsch discusses how whitewashed British history is even though there have been black people living in Britain since at least Roman times. She talks about her frustrations with Black History Month, which she feels has a forced celebratory tone – but a) all British history is black history and b) a fair whack of it is not particularly fun (400 years of slavery, anyone). She talks about the hypocrisy of celebrating abolitionists when the thing they were abolishing was created and maintained by the Empire. She looks at how racist 19th century views of Africa, espoused at events like the Great Exhibition, still have ramifications on the way Britain sees the continent today. She talks about bodies, othering, social expectations of the ‘good immigrant’, and problematic terminology such as BAME (so broad as to be meaningless in her view) and ‘I don’t see colour’ (meant well, but to deny that you see colour also allows you to look away from the racism people of colour face on a daily basis). She interviews lots of black British people with different backgrounds to hers to get their perspective, because class has a huge impact on the education and opportunities available and she’s from a comparatively privileged background. There’s so much to unpack in here, I don’t want to just list all the stuff I noted down as I was listening because that’s not a review – but the TL;DR is I really would recommend it to everyone.
I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban – Malala Yousafzai
This is the story of education campaigner Malala Yousafzai. She started off with a bit of intel on the geography – she is from the Swat valley in the Northwest of Pakistan which shares a border with Afghanistan, all of which was useful background for my geo-illiterate backside. She then speaks about her father’s childhood and how easy it could have been for him to become radicalised as a young boy when the CIA were encouraging young boys in his town to rise up against the infidel Soviets. It’s clear her father has been a massive support and influence on her. Malala talks with huge affection about her valley and school and friends, and describes her very ordinary teenage girl feelings about school rivalries and Twilight – but these are juxtaposed with the strange sensation of becoming globally recognised as a campaigner for girls’ right to education, earning prizes and accolades she felt she didn’t really work for. All she did in the beginning, along with her dad, was speak out when others did not. This sounds quite laudable, but she also talks of how in Pakistan she was regarded by many not as a champion of education but as an attention seeker, someone who probably always wanted to live abroad. She maintains this is not the case, reiterating her love for Swat, and her arrival in the UK does sound pretty grim compared to her beautiful valley. This book paints an interesting portrait of place and people. I was a bit shocked at the casual way she talked about comparing skin lightening cream tips with her friends, laughed at some bits particularly relating to interactions with her wee brother, and found her description of the time after she’d been shot and how she was separated from her parents for over a fortnight really quite upsetting (might be because I am tired and couldn’t help thinking about my own child). This is an affectionate (but by no means uncritical) and vivid portrait of a much missed homeland. I think it’s an important read because it’s not a polemic or full of rhetoric, it’s a story told to the best of her recollection by a sincere and articulate voice.
It’s Not About The Burqa: Muslim Women on Faith, Feminism, Sexuality and Race – various, edited by Mariam Khan
The blurb for this goes, “in 2016, Mariam Khan read that David Cameron had linked the radicalization of Muslim men to the ‘traditional submissiveness’ of Muslim women. Mariam felt pretty sure she didn’t know a single Muslim woman who would describe herself that way. Why was she hearing about Muslim women from people who were neither Muslim, nor female?” So she reached out to a load of Muslim women and asked them to write essays for this book, which is a really engrossing listen. Some of them are funny, some are sad, some are deeply pissed off, and I immediately followed all the writers on Twitter after listening to this because I want to hear more from them. Another one very much worth your time. I am considering buying a physical copy as well so I can read it again, possibly underline things, and highlight bits to people I know.
Books I read with my eyes
The London Eye Mystery – Siobhan Dowd
12 year old Ted and his big sister Kat try to figure out how their cousin Salim managed to go missing right in front of them on a trip to The London Eye. Ted has Aspergers which means he sees things in a way that others don’t necessarily, and that’s what helps him to eventually unravel the mystery. There are enough red herrings in here to keep you guessing at the outcome of this fun wee mystery.
Boys Don’t Cry – Malorie Blackman
Dante is about to get his A-Level results and head off to university when an old girlfriend turns up with a baby in tow claiming he is the dad. Boys Don’t Cry is the story of what happens next. It’s a quick read and feels pretty realistic, the characters are well drawn and you do really care about them by the end. Not one to go for if you’re after a bit of escapism, but then Blackman doesn’t shy away from writing tough stories.
Pet – Akwaeke Emezi
Oh my word I loved this one. So weird and creative and generally amazing. I almost don’t want to say anything about it for fear of spoiling you. Essentially it’s a YA book and in it a girl named Jam and her best friend Redemption live in a society that sees itself as a utopia, there are no monsters of any kind any more. Except maybe there are, and it’s just that their society is in denial… But what happens next will shock you. Read it at once, it’s fab.
All New Wolverine, Vol 1: The Four Sisters, Vol 2: Civil War II, Vol 3: Enemy of the State and Vol 4: Immune – Tom Taylor and David Lopez
Lumping these four books together because it’s all the same type of schtick. Basically I got a notification that the library had a load of new comics available on their mobile app so I had a browse and picked this at random. As the titles suggest, these four books collect editions of the new Wolverine. This is someone who has taken over from Logan after Huge Jackman died or whatever and the twist is now the Wolverine is a pure lassie! How can you tear people apart with your adamantium claws if you have periods, honestly talk about PC gone mad. Anyway in her first story she’s chasing down some clones of her who are all lassies as well, the Wasp is involved briefly and Doctor Strange is there too for some reason even though he’s a wang (don’t @ me I’ve not read any of his comics this opinion is based on the MCU). Book 1 was a bit of a romp, the art is quite nice, and I liked Gabby. Book 2 is all about how, having introduced Laura as the new Wolverine she steps out of his shadow and becomes her own thing – and also hangs out with Squirrel Girl briefly because sure. Book 3 is mind games and Laura going back to her somewhat dark past to let us know she is a survivor of trauma, much like the first Wolverine. Book 4 is really where she gets going, this is quite a good one. Imagine being given this long to hit your stride before getting cancelled eh. There are aliens, and action, and Deadpool who is always good value. So yeah, All New Wolverine, overall not treading a lot of different ground than old Wolverine but quite fun if you like this sort of thing. #saveourlibraries
My Sister The Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite
A brilliant page turner, this just immediately drew me in. It’s a dark comedy looking at the relationship between a pair of sisters, one of whom (as the title suggests) is a beautiful flake (and indeed a serial killer) whilst the other is a nurse who ends up helping her dispose of the bodies. The Lagos setting is vibrant and brilliantly brought to life. The shallow-ness of some men is skewered in an entertaining way. And you do find yourself wondering which way Korede will go as little sister Ayoola pushes her towards breaking point. This book is funny and clever and really well written, I read it very fast and would cheerfully read another.
I wrote and submitted one poem in September. I know yes, a poem – not really my wheelhouse but I ran it past a poet who said it did just about qualify. And honestly long form fiction is not really abounding just now. Look how long it took me to finish this blog post…
Quite a lot happened in September but I only really wrote down rough notes. We bought the baby’s hist first pair of shoes, they are bright red and mainly there to keep the socks from falling off. He started at nursery, and on the first day I left him there I felt physically sick but it got gradually better. We visited East Links Family Park which is a really good day out if you have small children, there’s loads to do. And because September is birthday month I visited two pubs, a cocktail bar and an owl sanctuary. I also mucked up a birthday cake for my husband and dug up the garden so we can flatten it out and put new grass down. Because we are adults now and making garden maintenance a bit easier is actually really important.
Meanwhile in the world of culture, we watched The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance on Netflix, it is BRILLIANT. I loved the film as a kid but this has a lot more going on to be honest. The spirit and heart of the original is there but there’s much more depth and action and sadness and laughs. Loved the sets and the puppetry and all of that side, amazing voice cast, highly recommended if you’ve not had a look. We also watched the telly version of Good Omens, which I liked a lot as well. I think it would have been quite easy to muck it up but they didn’t.
And finally, twas in September that I finally gave Lizzo a proper listen – obviously I knew Good as Hell because I have access to the internet, but I was in need of some new jams to get me through the excitement of turning over our lawn so I went album-ward. Any album that opens with “Never been in love before/What the fuck are fucking feelings yo?” is worth further exploration. The end of that story is that I am now moderately obsessed, she is a queen.
Right, now I’d better do the October one of these…